I am up to my armpits in raising a two year old boy. He is a typical two year old who loves imitating everything my husband and I do and has a wonderful innate desire to help us around the house. I want to encourage this desire and build his confidence in his ability to do these things so that chores are introduced naturally and help to build his confidence, independence, helpfulness, and feeling of pride and belonging.
I mean, those are all things we want for our children, right? How many articles have you read that encourage positive parenting, pc language, and parenting strategies with an ultimate goal of raising children who feel loved and accepted? The books we seek for our children teach responsibility and send messages that “girls can do anything boys can do” and “you can be anything you want to be.” We value these ideals. As I remember, the “throw like a girl” commercial was shared more than a public toilet seat.
And yet, it seems that everywhere we go gender stereotypes are alive and well, sending subconscious messages to our children that undermine the empowering messages we work so diligently to promote.
My husband noted these messages nearly a year ago (August 21, 2016). My son is interested in pushing things such as shopping carts, strollers, and vacuums. However, my husband and I were perusing the aisles in our local Toys R Us, and couldn’t help but notice that these items, like the pretend kitchen items, cleaning supplies, and baby dolls, were all pink Mini Mouse themed while the red and yellow Mickey Mouse only offered tools, cash registers, and cars.
I’m not against Mini Mouse or my son having pink toys, but why should he have to? Why separate out the toys that represent the traditional women’s role in pink and labeled with a female character? I teach my son to identify which bathroom to use based on the male character that best represents him on the door and never to go into the one with the female character because that one is only for girls. How do I teach him that this applies to bathrooms, but not toys? And would he even believe me over his beloved Disney who has chosen to promote only little girls on the box and in the advertisements?
Now before we light the torches and storm Disney shouting, “kill the beast,” we have to realize that Disney could (and has) offered some solutions, but they are far from being the problem.
Amazon can occasionally offer us exasperated parents, who have not yet given up on this positive message of equality, some relief in the form of a questionable box from China (but why does it smell like chemicals?!). This solution is not always what we want for our children. My son recently showed interest in caring for a baby doll and developing what I hope will be great big brother skills and eventually great daddy skills. I wanted to get him a little boy doll that he could better identify with and dress up in his newborn clothes. After coming up with very few boy doll options on Amazon, I went to the oh so popular Melissa & Doug website hoping to find him a Mine To Love doll like one of his little girl friends has. I was met with many little unblinking eyes of baby dolls all dressed in frilly pink outfits, complete with pink accessories, and this message in reply to my search.
Eventually, I found better success with my childhood company, Cabbage Patch Kids (est. 1978), which offers 7 boy and 85 girl Cabbage Patch Kid options, 52 newborn boy and 56 newborn girl options, and accessories in both blue and pink.
Still, there aren’t always obvious solutions. My son loves pretending to blow dry his hair and always wants to use my hair dryer, but I am afraid he will burn himself since it can get quite hot. I had hoped to find him a pretend hair dryer, preferably one that makes real sounds and even better if it actually blows… okay, so I’ve just described a fan, but I need a fan that looks like my blow dryer. However, apparently hair dryers, or fans that look like hair dryers, are only for girls who like pink.
I wonder if I am alone in my struggle with this.
I recently went to a touch a truck event where we saw five out of the seven toddler boys in our friends circle and none of the nine girls. We go for play dates at little girls’ homes and quickly find the cleaning supplies, baby dolls, stuffed animals, and kitchens to play with. My son was thrilled when we went to play at a little boy’s house and he was surrounded by balls, tools, and trucks for a change. I know parents of girls say their daughters love trucks, but I don’t always see those parents go out of their way to support that interest by buying trucks or going to truck events. And all too often I hear of dads who say no way will their son play with anything pink. Do they intend to discourage their son from practicing domestic skills?
Please understand, I don’t fault the parents and in no way am I saying that this is every parent. I am simply observing that these gender roles and expectations have become so deeply rooted in our culture and social norms that they are easily reflected in our businesses, our marketing, our stores, and in our homes. How do we change that? How do we tell our children that they can, and should, step out of those traditional roles while inadvertently teaching them their respective stereotypical role from birth?
“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” – Plato